Cliff Lee is interested in pitching in 2016, but has been unable to find an offer in the price range he's looking for, said to be $6-8 million (by Nick Carfado of the Boston Globe). Lee hasn't pitched since July of 2014, due to a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow, but he was one of the very best pitchers in baseball from 2008 to 2013, and is still only 37 years old, which certainly isn't young, but isn't ancient either.
Indians fans likely remember that in 2008 Lee turned in arguably the best season by a Tribe pitcher in the last forty years, posting a league-leading 2.54 ERA (167 ERA+) in 223.1 innings on his way to winning the American League Cy Young. The next summer he was traded to Philadelphia for a package that included Carlos Carrasco.
Last month Lee's agent gave an interview on MLB Radio, and said all sorts of semi-contradictory things, including the idea that Lee wants to play in 2016 because his competitive fire still burns, but also that he's gotten used to being a full-time dad and that it would have to be a "perfect fit" in order for him to return. I assume that's just agent-speak for "You guys should offer him a lot of money."
Presumably Lee wants to pitch for a team he believes can win. I think the Indians qualify, though Cliff probably hasn't read any of the reports on how the team is poised to improve upon its 2015 record. Let's say the Tribe are among the teams he'd be willing to join, and let's say the bottom end of that price range ($6 million) would be enough to bring him on board. (There would be some incentives for innings pitched, but let's say they don't start until he hits 100 innings, and that they don't escalate his potential cost by more than $4-5 million...
Should the Indians sign him?
The Tribe rotation already looks like it should be one of baseball's best, with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer looking like the 1 through 4, and Josh Tomlin, Cody Anderson, and T.J. House all in the mix for the #5 spot. There's a reasonable argument that the rotation is not an area the Indians should be putting any more resources, that if they're going to spend another $6-10 million, it should be on a bat.
There's also a reasonable argument that a team never really has too much good pitching. If Lee is healthy, forget the #5 spot, he could easily be better than Bauer is likely to be, and maybe push Salazar as the #3. Even if the top four all pitch well, there's a good chance they won't all stay healthy enough to make 30+ starts. Tomlin, Anderson, and House have all had stretches that make you think the rotation would be just fine with them included, but have also all had stretches that make you long for the sight of them in a Columbus Clippers uniform. The odds are pretty good that one of them pitches well enough to merit a rotation spot, but if there's an injury, can two of those guys be successful?
If I ran a team with postseason hopes and a softer rotation, I'd be knocking on Cliff Lee's door with $6 million and some incentives in a briefcase. I'd wash my hair, put on a clean shirt, and do my best to convince Cliff that mine was the team for him. If I ran the Indians though, much as I'd like a reunion, I'd pass. I think the money is available for him, but if spent now, I don't know that there'd be money available for anything significant midseason, and I think the Indians would be better served keeping some flexibility at this point.